By MAX VAN ZILE
Foxing’s Dealer is a thoroughly toothless record, a set of non-obtrusive songs that resists close attention. Since it aims for — and mostly hits — a tone of subdued prettiness, the record is never unpleasant to listen to, but it fails to engage the listener. Moreover, both the sensitive, self-consciously emotional lyrics and the vocal performance by lead singer Conor Murphy are vaguely irritating. This is an uninspired listen, but it does have its moments of melody: Dealer, therefore, is a record ideally suited as background music, a record that suffers with increased scrutiny.
The band themselves are a five-piece from St. Louis seeking to build on their debut, The Albatross and their music bears superficial resemblance not only to the emo rock that dominated mid-2000s alternative music but to other sad Midwestern hipsters like American Football. Foxing’s music is soft, acoustic indie with touches of the histrionic vocals of emo and the swelling breakdowns of post-rock. Mixed into the album are a few instrumental pieces: “Winding Cloth” and “Coda.” Otherwise, Foxing’s formula involves dreamy guitar lines swirling behind Murphy’s vocals, with tempo changes and punchless breakdowns often dropping in midway through a given song. Sonically the band is inoffensive and even sometimes pretty. “Weave,” for instance, rounds into form when a snare-driven beat begins playing, and “Indica” layers in horns to produce a subdued, droning effect.
Musically, though, this record is simply not very interesting. I found it difficult to pay attention to this album for its duration because the band’s sound fails to compel. The moments meant to galvanize, like the howl that kicks off the beat in “Night Channels” and the swirling instrumental breakdown on “Redwoods”, strike me as cliched. The song “The Magdalene” is a good case study — though supposedly an album highlight, its minor key guitar refrain and by-the-book breakdown midway through the song are more dreary than not.
I also disliked the vocals on this album. Murphy affects a high-pitched, self-consciously emotional tone that begins to grate, especially during rawer moments like on “Night Channels”. Murphy is not an unskilled singer, but the tone he’s chosen holds Foxing’s sound back rather than enhancing it — especially when combined with the thoroughly uninspired lyrics on this album.
These lyrics, too, are a low point. Though purported to be raw, emotional, and revealing, they’re mostly mumbo-jumbo, and when intelligible they’re brought to light as groaners like “We danced naked outside the floor of your bathroom until our bare feet slid tracks on tile.” In particular, Foxing write a lot about sex, with the typically ham-fisted approach characteristic to the record: “Swollen appendages catch in the knots of radiance” is a good case study, and it doesn’t help that these lines are all sung in Murphy’s whining falsetto. The image evoked is of a tear-streaked, barefoot guy with an acoustic guitar, beckoning unsuspecting indie fangirls onto his bed.
I loathe emo and I always have. As a critic, should I pretend impartiality with regard to genre? I will not. Its melodrama and overt sensitivity have always struck me as contrived, like the insincerity of a person who constantly promises you how sincere they are. Foxing falls victim to the same problem. Though they deal with Catholicism (the dreary “The Magdalene”) and bassist Josh Coll’s war experience in Afghanistan, the lines that stick out most are such queasers as “The sugar drips until your name soaks in my brain,” from “Laundered.” Their talk of swollen appendages and dripping sugar express Foxing’s real identity better than anything else. Behind the pretty harmonies and late-night confessions, these emotional souls reveal themselves in the end — like so many other sensitive, guitar-strumming boys — to be all about pussy. Girls — and music fans — beware.
Max Van Zile is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.